by Brittany Crowell
Upon getting to the theater, you enter an art installation inhabited by the artist, Ona. She writes and rips, littering a Safeway parking lot set to verticals and levels with the remnants of a pandemic letter exchange – iteration 1 of Ars Nova’s P.S. performance, conceived by Teddy Bergman, Sam Chanse, and Amina Henry.
The installation itself holds enough symbolism and beauty to capture one’s attention (scenic design by dots). You can hear the rain hitting the pavement as you see projections of an evening rain alternating with letter writing reflected on the scrim on either side of the stage. A spotlight hits a large pan of water (or is it ink) at the center of the room. Audiences are seated in 3/4 around the space, sitting in an elevated parking space built into the immersively-designed environment.
When the play begins, we can hear the sounds of the Safeway cashiers upstage, the rumble of a car arriving and parking upstage right. The sound design by Christopher Darbassie brings us directly into the space and defines the areas that we cannot see.
P.S. takes us back to 1998. Our pen pals, Bea and Ona, are 18, restless, and reconnecting. We learn so much about them: their virility, artistry, and desire for something bigger than Moody, Washington. Performed by the jubilant and youthful Alexis Floyd (Bea) and Lee Hubilla (Ona), these young women bring such joy and hope to the stage. We see chance and possibility in their actions, joy and humor in their energy.
Sam Chanse and Amina Henry’s dialogue brought me directly back to being a senior in high school, where having deep thoughts and vocalizing them are not always easily combined; where I was learning who I was and how to stand up for myself and what human connection, friendship, and love meant. These characters beautifully capture that age and that time in America – when Tupac and N’Sync were popular, and the American dream held a different weight.
There is something about the innocence of that age – both of the characters and in our country that has been lost. The elder Ona (performed weightily by Ruibo Qian) helps us transition between movements, reminding us of the gravity we have gained, but also the distance we have travelled. That she inhabits the space alone is not lost on the audience, as she wanders her art exhibit full of memory and teeming with loss and the reminiscence that comes along with it.
P.S. is playing LIVE at Ars Nova through October 23 and online through November 20. You can read the correspondence (mailed to audiences) from the past year on their website before (or after) attending the live and in person performance.
P.S. – conceived by Teddy Bergman, Sam Chanse, and Amina Henry; written by Sam Chanse and Amina Henry; directed and developed by Teddy Bergman
WITH – Alexis Floyd (Bea); Lee Hubilla (Young Ona); and Ruibo Qian (Adult Ona)
Scenic design and letters materials by dots; costume design by Devario D. Simmons; lighting design by Reza Behjat; sound design by Christopher Darbassie; movement consulting by Sunny Hitt. At Ars Nova: Jason Eagan, founding artistic director, Renee Blinkwolt, producing executive director, Casey York, general manager. 511 West 54th Street. https://arsnovanyc.com/ps/